COMMENTARY: I have a year left to complete my degree. Will I be able to take classes this fall?
My business depends on tourism and struggles every month. Will I be able to keep the doors open if state parks close?
How will I pay my bills if I have to take furlough days?
Will I be able to take my kids to Elephant Butte this summer?
These are questions I’ve heard from folks in recent weeks. These are the real fears of New Mexicans who are struggling to complete school, pay bills, and spend time with their children.
Many legislators worked in a bipartisan fashion to find solutions to the state’s budget woes during their recent session. I began thinking New Mexico might not follow Kansas along a path of extreme political gridlock and fiscal trouble.
Our Gov. Susana Martinez was signaling a willingness to consider tax increases – as long as they were the type she could call tax reform. And when Sen. Carroll Leavell, R-Jal, voted for his first tax hike ever, I thought maybe, just maybe, we had a deal.
“We’ve run out of any place else to get money – and if someone wants to disagree with me, they can show me how to get it,” Leavell said.
No deal, Martinez said. She accused lawmakers of wasting time and money and trying to rip off families to fund government. She said she wants real tax reform. But she’s not publicly presented a substantive proposal.
Now we have a 2018 fiscal year budget – which takes effect July 1 – that includes no funding for the Legislature or higher education. The governor vetoed that funding. Martinez has implemented a hiring freeze. She says she’s considering furloughs, reduced hours at MVD offices and closing state parks.
The Legislative Council responded Thursday by voting to sue the governor and seek the bipartisan support necessary to call an extraordinary session. They’re upping the ante by trying to overturn the vetoes.
If this standoff doesn’t end soon, the worst-case scenario is that state colleges and universities will have no state funding in less than three months. That isn’t their only source of revenue, but it’s massive.
Some might shut down. Others would dramatically reduce services, which could include layoffs and eliminating degree programs.
We’ll probably figure this out before that point. I don’t believe the governor or anyone else thinks cutting the Legislature and higher education is a solution.
But the damage in the meantime is real. A candidate for a professorship at New Mexico State University took a job elsewhere because of the uncertainty here. Universities are in limbo. They expect additional cuts, but there’s a big difference between $1 million at NMSU and $15 million.
The difference is jobs. It’s people’s ability to feed their kids. It’s whether more of our children leave the state for college.
There’s also uncertainty about the taxes businesses, nonprofits and people will pay beginning in July. In our unstable economic climate, Hulu just opted to build a customer service center in San Antonio, Texas instead of Albuquerque.
Policymakers need to consider the toll this is taking on all of us. They all say they’re willing to work together. Many legislators have demonstrated such willingness – though not the Senate Rules Committee chair, who isn’t holding confirmation hearings for many Martinez appointees. And what about the governor?
The Roundhouse is burning. We’re all suffering. It’s time to compromise.
Heath Haussamen is NMPolitics.net’s editor and publisher.